Less than two months ago, University of Hartford fans cheered the school's first-ever appearance in the NCAA Division I men's basketball tournament. By Saturday night, all that spirit seemed a distant memory.
Hartford's commencement ceremony honoring College of Education, Nursing and Health Professions graduates was noteworthy for the loud booing that greeted university president Gregory Woodward, the face of the unpopular decision to drop UHart athletics from Division I to Division III. The reaction to Woodward's appearance on stage was so disruptive that it forced him to leave the ceremony before it ended and before making his planned closing remarks.
“Commencement is an event for celebrating the years of hard work our graduates have completed and the degrees they have earned,” the university said in a statement, as reported by the Hartford Courant. “Unfortunately, some attendees chose to use this moment to focus attention elsewhere, by shouting and sharing language as they crossed the stage that has no place in any academic ceremony.
“It was clear there were going to be continued interruptions from some members of the audience during the events. As most of the language was directed at him, the president excused himself to allow the spotlight to remain where it belonged—on our graduates.”
Critics of the decision, made official by a vote of the Board of Regents, argue the change is unfair to athletes and will hurt the school’s fundraising and alumni engagement.
In a recent op-ed, Woodward and Board of Regents chair David Gordon defended the move, saying the school would fit better in Division III, where costs might be lower than in Division I, according to the Courant.
“The board’s challenge has been to balance the many positive attributes and experiences of intercollegiate athletics with its fiduciary responsibility to deliver an outstanding academic and university experience that directly benefits all students,” they wrote. “The mission of Division III athletics is the best path to meet these goals.”
Hartford lost its first-round NCAA tournament game March 19 to eventual national champion Baylor.